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The Scottish Guardianship Service

How it works

The Service works to help young asylum seekers to feel supported and empowered throughout their journey whilst their claim is assessed and their status determined. It enables them to access the assistance they need when they need it and help them to make informed decisions about their future.

On referral, the young person is appointed a guardian, who will represent a point of contact and continuity through their progress through the asylum and immigration system. The guardian is there to make the young person aware of their rights, explain aspects of the asylum, trafficking and welfare system to them, introduce them to social opportunities and to begin to integrate them into community life.

Age Assessment

Local authorities are obliged by the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to provide UASCs with accommodation under section 25, which makes them formally looked after. For the purposes of Section 25, children are defined as up until 18 years of age, the same as the definition of children in immigration legislation.

Young people often arrive seeking asylum without any documentation showing their age; may not know their age or their appearance makes it hard to judge. Correct age assessment is vital in order to ensure that they get the protection and support that they need. The task is extremely difficult because research has consistently shown that there is no medical way of accurately assessing the age of young people.

The Scottish Refugee Council together with Glasgow City Council and partners including COSLA, the Scottish Government and UKBA have taken practical steps to help ensure that best practice is followed when young people need to be age assessed from the outset and developed practice guidance, which is a first in the UK. This is aimed at helping social workers in Scotland to conduct the difficult task of accurately assessing the age of young asylum seekers.


In 2009 the Scottish Government (SG) published Do the Right Thing – a progress report with the response to the 2008 concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Contained within this report was a clear commitment by the SG to account for actions to further promote children’s rights. In Section 19 the SG committed to providing better support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

To help local authorities with the specific issues that affect separated children, the SG part funded the establishment of the Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS), a pilot service which offered support, first and foremost, to children and young people both on welfare and immigration matters and specific support with the immigration process to local authorities. Through the funding of the SGS, the Scottish Government enabled separated children to learn about the welfare and immigration processes directly, making the information relevant to their specific circumstances. The pilot phase ended on 31 March 2013 and was evaluated independently by Profs Ravi Kohli and Heaven Crawley, both highly respected in the field of immigration issues surrounding children.

This evaluation provided an opportunity to observe a model for Guardianship being established and its development over a two year period from 1st September 2010 to 31st August 2012. Overall, the evaluation found that “the Scottish Guardianship Service contained a wealth of evidence about the benefits of Guardianship for young people who are seeking asylum or have been trafficked. The voices of young people were strong and clear. They believed that the Service put them – rather than the processes to which they were subjected – at the centre and that the Guardians provided them with a level of acceptance and support which, for complex reasons, they were unable to secure from other adults in their lives.”

The Scottish Government recognises Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) as a particularly vulnerable group of young people who should be provided with the support they need when they need it. That is why it agreed to fund a guardianship service, based on the model piloted by the Scottish Guardianship Service, for a minimum of three years.

The SGS continues to work with UASC - children and young people who arrive in Scotland separated from their families or anyone else with parental responsibility and who may have been trafficked, from outside the European Union. It continues to be managed and delivered by the Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour, who work closely with the Home Office, local authorities and other stakeholders, providing the cornerstone of how we support UASCs in Scotland. This holistic approach to the needs of UASCs – around immigration, welfare and social networking – leads the way in the UK.

In any given month, as many as 5 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 may arrive independently in Scotland and claim asylum. In many cases there are indicators that these children may have been trafficked.